South Africa’s youth have a lot to celebrate following the recent State of the Nation Address (Sona) and budget speech.
In his maiden Sona, President Cyril Ramaphosa repeatedly emphasised that job creation would be at the centre of the 2018 national agenda. Former finance minister Malusi Gigaba confirmed that government would be contributing R57 billion to fund free higher education.
This comes as at a time when more than 55% of South Africans are living in poverty and the unemployment rate, although slightly lower, is sitting at 26.7%.
“Our most grave and most pressing challenge is youth unemployment. It is therefore a matter of great urgency that we draw young people in far greater numbers in productive economic activity,” Ramaphosa said.
The president promised “practical solutions and initiatives that will be implemented immediately” and committed to create a million such internships in the next three years, which would allow unemployed youth the opportunity to work.
The strong focus on job creation and development for the youth in both policy and budgetary respects is a welcome development.
It is promising to see that Ramaphosa understands the importance – both individually and on a national economic level – of youth job creation. An increase in youth employment means increased spending power, less dependence on social grants, less motivation to turn to crime and an overall improvement of the socio-economic environment for all citizens.
One such way the government can create employment en masse for young people is through increased internship funding.
Internships are critical when creating employment opportunities for marginalised youth. The oversupply of labour often makes it difficult for inexperienced youth to get a foot in the door.
With employers often opting for experienced candidates over non-experienced graduates, internship funding will incentivise companies to take on more graduates as interns, thus being more inclusive of individuals who may otherwise have been disregarded.
Once candidates have a year’s experience under their belts, they are far more employable. Young people who have participated and completed an internship programme become more confident, capable and driven to improve themselves in the context of work.
SMMEs in particular stand to gain much when given access to internship funding. The subsidy enables them to overcome the hurdle of growing their organisation’s personnel numbers, allowing the business to grow and offer more youths an employment opportunity.
We are thrilled to see that Ramaphosa has prioritised youth employment initiatives and has allocated significant funding to actualise this goal. While sustainable change is a process, we work with the youth on a daily basis and experience first-hand the despair and desperation faced by our young people. South African youth are a remarkable generation; they are ambitious, talented, and determined, but they need our support. They are desperate for an opportunity to live up to their potential and make a contribution to society.
The allocation of R57 billion for free higher education and training will significantly benefit long-term economic development.
Jake Willis is CEO of Lulaway youth employment agency.